Butternut squash (Cucurbitaceae moschata) is perhaps the most identifiable of the squashes due to its distinctive pale yellow and pear-shaped fruit. The orange flesh inside is distinctly sweet and tastes delicious roasted. They are high in vitamin A as well as providing vitamin C, manganese and fibre.
Butternut squash is a winter squash and belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, gourds, cucumber and melon. Squashes bear palmately lobed, alternate, and simple leaves and have spiralling tendrils. They have yellow flowers and their fruits are specialized berries called pepos, which can grow very large. Winter squash take longer to mature than summer squashes, one hundred days versus fifty days. They have durable rinds and are consumed when the fruits and seeds are fully mature. A single plant can produce three or four butternut squashes each season.
Growing squash from seed
Once the soil has sufficiently warmed up squash can be planted directly outside in your beds, usually between April and June. However you may wish to give your butternut squash a head start by starting them off indoors several weeks before the last frost is due. Plant your seeds in 11 cm pots, which will accommodate 2-3 seeds. Place the seeds 2 cm under the soil, lightly water and keep on a warm, sunny windowsill until germination. Harden off before planting out in the bed two weeks after the last frost has passed.
Butternut squash can grow very large so you will only require three or four plants for a good harvest. Ensure that you have enough room in your bed to accommodate them as your plants will require plenty of space. Select a sunny position and prepare the seed bed by digging planting holes 90 cm / 3 feet apart two weeks before sowing. Fill with a mixture of compost and soil and incorporate a general fertiliser. Place a single plant in each planting hole, or 3-5 seeds if planting direct into the soil (but thin out as necessary).
Squashes are thirsty plants so water well to ensure that the soil is kept constantly moist. However the neck of the plant can rot if water sits around the top of the plant. You can sink a 15 cm / 6 " pot alongside the plant and water into this to ensure that water reaches the roots.
Butternut squashes will have male only flowers bloom prior to the female ones. It is the female flowers that will set fruit. Squashes are hungry too so feed every 2 weeks with a liquid fertiliser once the fruits have started to swell. Watch out for pest and disease such as powdery mildew and grey mould.
When the season is coming to a close pinch off any new flowers or small squashes to allow the main crop to swell. Allow the fruit to mature on the plant and remove the fruit just prior to the first frost. When the fruits are mature the skins become tough, so check with your fingernail to ensure that you cant cut the skin.
Butternut squash have a long storage life if you leave in the sun to dry for a few days and can be stored for several months.
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